Nettle Soup

One cup or so of rinsed stinging nettles, one cup of chicken (or vegetable) broth, half a cup of fresh cream, a handful of chives, two hard-boiled eggs, salt and pepper to taste: These are the ingredients grandma Olga used to conjure up a miracle called nettle soup.

When I think of her and food, then I think of nettle soup. She obviously cooked and served me a lot of other stuff, but it’s the nettle soup that paints her food picture.

Looking back, her being a nettle soup virtuoso stands to good reason, for all along one side of her front yard grew a sizable forest of hungry, stinging nettles.

These hard-hearted creatures (which apparently had resisted, and continued to resist any human attempt to uproot them) earned my respect very early on, and I’d always keep a good, safe distance between myself and them whenever I crossed the yard. It never occurred to me that you could eat something that could sting you so hard—but apparently boiling water takes the sting out of them (apt aphorism, that).

I don’t think Olga told me what was in the soup the first time she served it, perhaps wisely, because as it happened I loved it and I’m not sure I would have, had I known. I don’t even think I would have tried it, had I known.

Once she let me in on the secret, though, I began to puzzle the question of eating something that stings: how come it didn’t sting your tongue? But even though the secret was out, I still loved it, and Olga—with her near endless supply of nettles just outside the door—made it well and often.

An odd thing in retrospect is that I don’t remember Lisbet (who was a trained cook, after all, and very, very good at it) ever making us nettle soup. Then again, word had it that she had fallen into that nettle forest outside Olga’s house as a small child, naked, and had burned herself something fierce, almost life-threateningly fierce. Perhaps that had something to do with it—something like that is liable to quell your enthusiasm for the nettle race.

So, as nettle soups went, the only one I had ever had was Olga’s, and this held true well into my fifties when I discovered (on one of my Sweden visits) that Anna, daddy Kjell’s third (and last) wife, could also make nettle soup—and just the right way, hardboiled egg and all.

The last time I saw Anna—this was after Kjell’s passing, and a year before her own—she had made this wonder of a soup for me, especially, (which I managed to spill on her lovely table cloth, but that’s another story), and I ate it with relish, still feeling deep inside that I was somehow getting the better of the nettles by consuming them. Showing them who’s boss.

In fact, I believe that if stinging nettles knew how good they taste as soup, perhaps they’d think twice about stinging people—especially cooks.

Well, perhaps—since Olga never had any problems harvesting as many of the ornery things as she wanted, whenever she wanted—perhaps they do think twice about stinging cooks, what do I know?


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